Do You Want To?

Almost nobody begins a meditation practice for reasons that will permit them to continue once they hit the wall.

If you meditate because you believe yourself to be special, your reward will be to discover that you are nothing special at all.

If you meditate because you believe it will bring you peace, your reward will be to have your understanding of the nature of peace shattered.

If you meditate because you think it will help you manage your life, your reward will be to discover you have no control over anything whatsoever.

Still want to practice? Most do not.

Below is a lengthy quote from an article by Ken McLeod. He begins the section with a Nasrudin story:

One day, while staying at a friend’s house, Nasrudin peered over the wall into the neighbor’s yard and saw the most wonderful garden he had ever seen. He noticed an old man patiently weeding a flower-bed and asked,

“This is a beautiful garden. I’d like to have one just like it. How do you make a garden like this?”

“Twenty years hard work.”

“Never mind,” said Nasrudin.

And then he continues:

“You say you want to be awake and present in your life, but you practice only occasionally, and even then, for relatively short periods. Maybe you do practice regularly, but your practice only goes so far, stopping at a wall that you can sense but can’t name. What stops you? Are you willing to touch that wall, touch it and go into it? Are you willing to be present in any and every experience that arises, whether it be anger, shame, love, success, heartbreak, victory, insult or failure? What do you actually want from your practice?…

“Willingness means you practice living in the world of immediate experience, the world in which there is no time, the world in which you cannot trade or share a single thing with anyone, the world in which not a single person, not even you, exists, the world that is what you experience right now. It also means ‘twenty years hard work.’”
— Ken McLeod, in “Three Questions”, and article on the Unfettered Mind website

Thank you, Ken, for (much more than) twenty years hard work.

Reconnecting What?

Whenever I sit for practice, I reconnect. But with what? And what is it that reconnects?

Butt to cushion, obviously.

A few small rituals suitable to formal practice (or not):
Connect lighter with candle, incense with candle flame, perhaps open a prayer book.
This sets up a connection with something else – something called “intention.”
The movements and words automatically engender a sense of slowing down.
(In relation to what?)

Things settle.
Reconnecting with physical sensations… twitches, itches, tingles, pulses, warmth, textures, that normally go un-noticed.
They come and go. Just sensations.
(Pleasure? Pain? Who decides?)

Things settle.
Reconnecting with emotions. Ripples touch awareness: anger, contentment, confusion, boredom, love, one after another, temporarily unmoored from palisades of memory, view, opinion. Just feelings.
(Whose feelings? Who’s feeling?)

Things settle.
Reconnecting with thoughts: to find them as they are and not be lost in them. Just thoughts.

If you believe your life, this makes no sense. A waste of time.
If you doubt, doors open. Narnia will never be the same.


Franca Leeson begins a new series of classes May 14, 2014: see Meditation Class: Reconnecting for details.

Meditating over the Holidays — 10 Tips

You’ve developed a nice meditation practice — congratulations! You sit every day, you face the stresses and strains of daily life with calm and equanimity, and you feel that, finally, you’re beginning to get some kind of handle on your patterns.

Then… you go home for Christmas. Or Christmas comes home for you. Either way, now more than ever a budding meditation practice can fall apart. But this is actually the very best time to practice:

  • First, the disruption in your daily routine will challenge your discipline. If you can keep your practice solid through this, it will be stronger than ever.
  • Second, contact with your family will probably bring up a lot of old emotional skeletons: what a great opportunity to work with compassion and awareness!

Here are 10 tips to help you make the most of it:

mediation-snow1. Decide each night when and where you’re going to meditate the next day.
Then do it. Early in the morning is best, as holiday schedules are unpredictable — best to get to it sooner. Bonus: meditating in the morning will probably set you up for a calmer day.

2. During overnight visits, let your hosts/guests know you will take time out to meditate each day.
Be flexible — don’t compel your hosts to build their day around your meditation schedule. But let them know you will need that 30 minutes at some point each day.

bolsterzafuhandle3. If possible, take your meditation cushion with you.
Bringing it along supports your commitment as well as your seat.

4. Adopt a really obvious meditation posture, like sitting on the floor or facing a wall, when you sit in a non-private space while others might come around. That way, if Uncle Ralph wanders in while you’re meditating in the family room at 7am, he’ll (hopefully) know not to start chatting with you.

ear5. Off the cushion (and on!), practice deep listening.
This is especially helpful when visiting people who have a lot to say. Imagine that your whole body is an ear, and feel the vibrations of what they are saying moving into and through you. Listen to more than their words: hear their tone, their body language. Most important: include in your attention your own voice and inner responses.

6. Take a mindful walk every day.
Whether alone or accompanied, open your senses to everything that’s there: sights, sounds, smells, sensations. Give your walk your full attention.

grumpy7. When you get grumpy, use the opportunity to practice sending and taking.
Imagine you can take all the grumpiness in the world into you in one in-breath, leaving everyone else free of it. Then imagine putting all the nice things you enjoy into one out-breath, and give it all away to others.

8. Take one mindful breath.
When you think of it, whatever is happening, jump into the gap created by your awareness and take one mindful breath.

yikes9. When you mess up, let go!
If you forget to meditate, or meditate “wrong”, or behave like a jerk, that’s your cue to just let go. You have no control over the past, and you can’t control the future: it’s what you do right now that counts. So don’t waste time beating yourself up or constructing stories about how bad/good/indifferent you are. Just carry on, take the next step forward.

10. Imagine every encounter will be your last.
The only thing we can really count on is impermanence: death can come to anyone at any time. Bearing this in mind can help you focus on what’s truly important.